Shamanic Experience: Circling Totems

Setup: The following is a short excerpt from my autobiography Gathering My Life into Feathers. To set this up: I was 30 years old, having spent the prior 3 years struggling with a severe back problem.  I was running very low on coping reserves.

Shortly after my initial workshop in shamanism with Michael Harner, I drove up to our geodesic dome near Grand Marais Minnesota.  I had an idea that this could be my medicine lodge, tucked away on a lake near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.  But three years of physical suffering had left me feeling old and worn out (this was the summer before my spinal fusion).  After the five and a half-hour drive to our cabin, my body was aching as I prepared to get out of the car.  I said to Naomi, “I don’t know if I can handle this anymore.  I think it might be best to sell the whole thing.”  My statement referred primarily to selling the dome, but there was a conscious hint of selling my body for real estate in the next world.

I got out of the car and was stopped by what happened next.  A bald eagle (an endangered species and extremely rare sight in 1985 in that area) flew toward me and began to circle overhead.  The Eagle, barely higher than treetop level (about 40 feet in the air), was flying in a tight circle directly over me.  I counted.  Four circles, and then it flew off to the west.  Had not Harner signified the number four as an omen?  Still feeling great pain, but somehow simultaneously light as a feather, I told Naomi, who was still in the car, “Maybe I won’t sell after all.”

I did not consider Eagle to be one of my power animals at that time.  It would be years before I paid proper homage to that beautiful bird.  And yes, the dome did become a medicine lodge.

Several years later, I was attending a Harner workshop on divination.  One of the exercises was to find a place where you can receive a blessing.  The technique involved taking a shamanic journey and watching for a beam of light that would direct you to the location.

In my journey, the light pointed out a location across the lake from the medicine dome in the national forest.  I could see where the light penetrated the forest from above, but couldn’t see the exact spot.  I was told that I should look for a feather to guide me, and that the precise location was near a throne.

The next time I went up north, I determined to seek out that place where I would receive a blessing.  I drove to a landing that was relatively close and began my search.  I had a feeling the exact spot would be hard to find.  I began walking by the lake.  There was no trail.  I called my animal power as I had been instructed to do.  As I did so, it occurred to me that I generally never saw feathers on my walks up North.  If I didn’t find a feather, how would I find the blessing?

I walked over fallen trees and rough terrain for about a half mile.  I knew I was close, but where exactly?  I saw a huge boulder a little way up the hill.  Was that the throne?  I went and sat on it.  No, that wasn’t the spot.  It didn’t feel right somehow, so I continued on.  Seeing that the light from my earlier shamanic vision was now behind me, I doubled back through a thick of evergreen branches.  Emerging, I saw a tiger swallowtail butterfly.  Before I could think, I said, “The feather!”  I walked right up to the butterfly and sat down next to it.  The butterfly flew off.  I thought it was going to fly away, but it doubled back and flew a tight and complete circle around me.  I could easily have grabbed it out of the air. Next, the butterfly flew toward the boulder that I had earlier rejected as the spot.  I could see where it was heading, and saw the exact location of the blessing spot as the butterfly flew over it.  Slightly unusual yet camouflaged at the same time, the area lie between the boulder “throne” I had rejected and the place where I was currently sitting (the feather-butterfly site).  I went there, sat down, and was immediately engulfed with a sense of ecstasy.  I closed my eyes for about 15 minutes to soak up the feeling.  When I opened my eyes, I noticed a pair of fireflies mating on my shoe.

Link to Gathering My Life into Feathers eBook ($1.50):

Update: Since that time I have had an even closer encounter with an eagle.  Several years ago, while walking by the lake, I was walking under a tree where an eagle was perched.  The eagle took off, dropping before it could gain height, literally a foot or so above my head.  I watched as it flew in front of me.  I felt welcomed to the neighborhood.

Several years prior, when I was in the process of saying goodbye to the Medicine Dome in northern Minnesota, an eagle flew over my head — again about 40 feet in the air, screeching the whole time.  The eagle was voicing my sentiment.

But neither of these episodes was as intimate as having an eagle circle me four times.  I felt somehow rescued.  I probably should have worked the word “awe” into my manuscript, but felt at the time that the word was overused.

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